Recently a group of freshmen launched a company to combat the issue of textbook prices.
The startup Textbook Friend, which allows Penn students to communicate easily to buy or sell used textbooks, launched Nov. 25.
It was founded by Wharton freshman Karan Parekh and College freshman Joshua Haghani, who began their Penn experience as roommates but became business partners by the end of the semester. They were joined by Engineering freshman Vivek Menon.
Parekh said he and Haghani noticed the inherent problem of large middleman costs in the resale of textbooks and “had the idea that we wanted to make some sort of positive impact at Penn.”
Currently, there are only a few other mechanisms at Penn providing students with the opportunity to buy or sell used textbooks. The Penn Book Center offers a textbook buyback service, and the Penn Book Bazaar, operated by the Undergraduate Assembly, offers a similar service as the Textbook Friend website.
However, Parekh sees their startup as an individual product, “way different from anything on the market.” A cleaner user interface and integrated services such as embedded when2meets and buyer-seller matching services are among some of the value-added features of the website, he said.
Student users responded positively to the website’s interface and hope to see the website develop more in the future.
“The website layout is really easy to navigate, and it’s pretty,” College freshman Rebecca Ballantyne said.
“I chose to advertise [my books] on Textbook Friend in order to build some momentum for what I hope will become a more widespread alternative to Penn Book Bazaar,” College and Wharton freshman Kartik Bhamidipati said in an email.
Although it began at Penn, Textbook Friend is planning to go national. With a total of nearly 60 students working on the project across Penn, Drexel University, Temple University and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, the team is hoping for a nationwide expansion. They envision building a ubiquitous textbook resale service across university campuses and have contacted students from around 20 schools across the country to set up sub-domains for the website, including New York, Rutgers and Duke universities.
As a student startup, resources are limited, and so the team had to figure out innovative ways to advertise their product. However, Textbook Friend Marketing Head and Engineering freshman Gi Yun Lee came up with a unique advertising idea.
Besides traditional methods such as posting flyers and utilizing Twitter and Facebook, he found a prime advertising spot in the form of the bathroom stalls at Hill College House. According to Parekh, the number of unique site visitors tripled the day after the team posted flyers in the Hill bathrooms.
“People go to the bathroom all the time,” Parekh said. “It’s a way to naturally get marketing, and it’s uncluttered.”
Faculty provided advertising input. Meredith Myers, a Wharton management professor, sent an email with the website link to the class. Economics professor Rebecca Stein also posted the website link on the class’s Blackboard site after hearing about it from Lee.
“If it makes the market more efficient and if it helps the students, I’m happy to do it,” Stein said.
Between drafting legal documents, setting up teams in four universities and discussing their business model with a private equity partner, the team also had to manage their own schoolwork. Despite the tremendous amount of effort needed to run a company, they found the experience rewarding.
“It’s not like work, it’s fun too,” Lee said.
And like the name “Textbook Friend” suggests, the team ultimately hopes to provide a user-friendly service to students nationwide.
“I think there’s nothing more valuable than putting out a product in the real life that is making an actual difference for consumers,” Parekh said.
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